WHEELING — City leaders are leaning toward adopting new rules that will allow certain vehicles — traditionally viewed by many as off-road vehicles — on Wheeling’s streets, falling in line with a new state law.

The state of West Virginia last year passed legislation permitting the use on most public roads of utility vehicles that meet certain criteria. The city of Wheeling’s rules and regulations had been in line with the state’s previous law, which as of last summer has been tweaked to include street-legal utility vehicles.

Speaking before the Public Safety Committee of Wheeling City Council this past week, Wheeling Police Chief Shawn Schwertfeger said his department does not have a specific stance on the issue. Yet he urged city leaders to more clearly define the city code as it relates to utility vehicle use on public roads in light of the state’s new law.

There needs to be clarification about the city’s stance on these rules, he said, for the sake of both police officers who enforce the laws and for motorists who own and use these vehicles. Many of those motorists appeared before the Public Safety Committee meeting last week to speak in support of the city’s adoption of the new state law.

“The law is so blurry now, it’s difficult to get through,” the chief said. “We don’t necessarily have a recommendation to prohibit or adopt.”

State law in West Virginia used to prohibit specialty use vehicles — all-terrain vehicles or ATVs, utility task vehicles or UTVs and side-by-side vehicles — unless they were on a special purpose or on certain highways. The new state law allows special purpose vehicles if they were titled with a motorcycle tag, if the driver is a licensed operator, and if other conditions are met. They must be insured and they must pass state inspections.

The vehicles are not permitted on what is considered a controlled access highway such as Interstate 70, Interstate 470, W.Va. 2, and similar freeways with access ramps.

“Our concern would not be people who are responsible,” Schwertfeger said. “All of our concerns would be for people who are irresponsible.”

Safety is an issue, as some UTVs have a tendency to roll over, the chief noted. But the Ohio State Highway Patrol worked to get regulations more clearly defined for state roads, and issues like tire safety have been addressed. The tires along with the other features on each vehicle must meet state inspection in order to be granted road-worthy.

Noise complaints could be another concern if these vehicles are used improperly or if the new state law is abused, with utility vehicles being driven up and down public roadways, the chief said.

Schwertfeger said police chiefs in Parkersburg and Weirton have mentioned that they have adopted the new state law in those communities and experienced no problems.

Utility vehicle owners who spoke before city leaders last week noted that motorists who work to have their vehicles insured and pass state inspection are people who invest a lot of money and time into them. Some cost in the range of $30,000 to $40,000, they said.

“I think the goal is to provide guidance for our police officers and provide guidance for the citizens who may be riding these vehicles on the highway,” said Councilman Dave Palmer. “We’re trying to get everyone on the same page.”

The committee requested that an ordinance be drafted to parallel the new state code to be forwarded on to city council for its review and consideration.

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